film spotlight A

by chris carpenter


s December rolls around, most people are focused on holiday gift shopping, home decorating, and party throwing or attending. However, film critics and Hollywood industry guild members are under the gun to anoint the best (and sometimes trash the worst) movies of 2019. It makes

for a fun but even more stressful time of year. Studios are busy sending out DVDs and online

screening links of what they consider to be their most promising films to award voters, including the members of my group, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics. A number of these contenders have LGBTQ content or other relevance to our community. Currently, what I’ve dubbed “the four J’s” are dominating awards-season chatter:Joker,Judy, Jojo Rabbit andJennifer Lopez. The first two films detail the tragic results of lifelong abuse, a timely and important subject. They also boast awards- worthy performances by their leading man and lady, respectively. Joaquin Phoenix is undeniably powerful in Joker

as Arthur Fleck, a downtrodden resident of decrepit, pre-Batman Gotham City. Long convinced by his mother that his role in life is to bring happiness to others, Fleck works as a clown-for-hire for local businesses, hospitals and other organizations. Sadly, he endures near-constant physical and/or emotional abuse from street hoodlums, co-workers, employers and passersby. One day he is pushed too far and ends up fatally shooting three employees of the storied Wayne Enterprises after they attack him on a subway train. The general kudos that Fleck’s unanticipated action receives from his fellow poor citizens of Gotham, as well as more personal revela- tions, spark his evolution into Batman’s eventual arch-nemesis. AlthoughJoker became a huge international hit, it

has received wildly divergent reactions from critics and viewers alike. Drawing too obviously at times from the early works of director Martin Scorsese (whoseThe Irishman is a virtually guaranteed awards nominee this year), it is a morally troubling movie

when it comes to its “kill the rich” denouement/ endorsement. Despite this, Phoenix is a front runner for Best Actor at the Academy Awards. I suspect Best Picture will be more of a longshot. Judy, meanwhile, is the latest dramatization of

Judy Garland’s life. The late, great singer-actress and enduring gay icon endured systematic abuse beginning at age 2 from managers, studio heads and her mother. Most significantly, they got her addicted to drugs as a child starlet so she could perform on demand. As an adult, her ongoing addictions to drugs, alcohol and manipulative men ruined her career and led to her early death at age 47. This biopic was adapted from, and is actually

an improvement on, Peter Quilter’s more sensa- tionalistic playEnd of the Rainbow. Actress Renee Zellweger is sensational in a good way as Garland. While she is subtle more often than not in her channeling of Garland, the musical numbers remind viewers simultaneously of both women’s artistry and endearing vulnerability. Zellweger previously won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2003’s Cold Mountain, but her performance inJudy may well garner her this year’s Best Actress Oscar. She would definitely get my vote if I had to vote now for GALECA’s Dorian Awards. The third “J” stands for Jojo, i.e.Jojo Rabbit. This

World War II satire, directed by Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok), is alternately hilarious and heartbreaking as it follows the exploits of the title, 10-year-old German boy. He is such a devoted little Nazi that he even envisions Adolf Hitler (goofily personified by Waititi) as his imaginary friend. Jojo must confront his blind nationalism when he discovers that his beloved mother (played by Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic.

Jojo Rabbit is a crowd-pleaser that won the

People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival and has done well at the U.S. box office since its release in October. EssentiallyThe Diary of Anne Frank as if remade by Mel Brooks, I expect it to receive major awards attention. Johansson could be a contender for her lovely performance as Jojo’s compassionate mother, as could Sam Rockwell’s funny yet warm turn as a gay but necessarily- closeted Nazi superior. Last but not least of “the four J’s” is J.Lo, aka

actress-singer Jennifer Lopez. Although she has previously given strong performances in movies such asOut of Sight andSelena, Lopez is aiming for her first Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress in Hustlers. She played Ramona, the fierce leader of a gang of exotic dancers who turn the tables on wealthy men who took advantage of them. Lopez is a showstopper as she pole-dances, connives, whips up knock-out drugs in her kitchen, and sports flashy fur coats. Every awards season features a worthy underdog

and this year’s isThe Peanut Butter Falcon.The lov- able tale of a young man with Down syndrome who dreams of becoming a professional wrestler could win nominations and/or awards for its bromantic leads, Shia LaBeouf and newcomer Zack Gottsagen. Of note, Gottsagen would become the industry’s first honoree who actually has Down syndrome. This might provide some additional incentive to nominators/voters.

Keep watching entertainment news for what

will no doubt be an exciting, potentially historic awards season. In the meantime, happy holidays!


RAGE monthly | December 2019

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